Sunday, January 28, 2007

Lectio Sancti Evangelii Secundum Reggiemagne

Always worth the price of admission (which he refuses to charge), the Pope's Latinist, Milwaukee-born Carmelite Fr Reginald Foster, held forth anew on the state of the church and the language he loves in yesterday's Telegraph:
Although Pope Benedict grew up with Latin, and is fluent in the language, Fr Foster said he did not "have time" to compose and translate the hundreds of documents that the Vatican issues. Paul VI insisted on greater use of Latin within the Vatican, but Fr Foster said more junior members of the Catholic hierarchy were less enthusiastic now.

"I'm worried that if one Cardinal makes one or two decisions it could all go," he said. "Already, we are sending congratulation letters to some Cardinals and they say can we please provide a translation. They want to read them out in the church and so on. Of course, I won't provide translations. We might as well be writing in Mandarin."

He said reports that Pope Benedict will reintroduce the Tridentine Mass, which dates from 1570 and is largely conducted in Latin, were wrong – not least because of the Pope's desire to avoid more controversies. A speech last year offended Muslims and more recently he gave initial support to a Polish archbishop who was eventually forced to resign, after admitting that he had collaborated with the communist-era secret police.

"He is not going to do it," Fr Foster said. "He had trouble with Regensberg, and then trouble in Warsaw, and if he does this, all hell will break loose." In any case, he added: "It is a useless mass and the whole mentality is stupid. The idea of it is that things were better in the old days. It makes the Vatican look medieval."

He condemned the loss of Latin teaching in schools across most of Europe, and said that as a result students were missing out on important elements of history. "Like classical music, Latin will always be there. If we cannot understand it, it is we who are losing out."

Italy is, however, different: all schoolchildren, except those who attend technical colleges, must be taught Latin for at least four hours a week until they are 18. But Fr Foster said the techniques used to teach Latin were outdated. "You need to present the language as a living thing," he said. "You do not need to be mentally excellent to know Latin. Prostitutes, beggars and pimps in Rome spoke Latin, so there must be some hope for us."

Last year Fr Foster was fired from the Gregorian University for allowing too many students to study without charging them.

"I was not going to play the policeman," he said. "I was happy to teach anyone who wanted to learn. Many of my students studied for three, four, five years -without -paying a single cent."

He argued that the only solution to the decline of Latin was for the Pope to lead by example. "Instead of a siesta, he should announce that from 2pm to 4pm every day he will read Latin at the Vatican."

He added with a twinkle: "People who come will get assignments. You will be picked on to answer questions, and if you mess up, the Pope will make you disappear. He can do that, you know."